Nordic walking Q and A

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Many of us have discovered the value of walking in 2020 and are looking for ways to up the ante in 2021. The question on so many lips is….

Do Nordic Walking poles make any difference?

ANSWER – Yes of course they do but its not just the poles (which have to be the right ones  – see below) it’s about mastering the way to use them or you will end up just walking with a pair of poles and not involving the WHOLE body in order to get maximum benefits!

There are plenty more questions and perhaps a few myths too so we thought we would provide all of the answers.

So what is Nordic walking?

It was originally a summer training regime for cross country skiers so they could keep their whole body in prime condition for their famously gruelling winter sport. The movement in this instance involved fairly long poles in order to reach forward to gain propulsion from a massive push which the participant continued as they strode forward in order to mimic the long glide that would be achieved on skis. Whilst this movement was vital for those who wished to perfect the action for skiing, it soon became apparent that if it was modified, it could also become an effective form of exercise. In the UK it is the exercise benefits rather than coaching technique that has really taken hold since it’s introduction in the early 2,000 s.

A WALX Instructor teaching Power of Poles

Nordic Walking with typical Nordic walking straps on the poles

What are the physical benefits of Nordic Walking?

Because Nordic walking uses all of the major muscles in the body, it provides effective full body exercise with every step. As these muscles require oxygen to function it is also great cardiovascular exercise which helps to burn between 20 and 40% more calories than walking without poles (provided you are using the poles correctly!)

The poles also provide stability and can reduce the strain on lower body joints by sharing both the effort and your body weight with the upper body muscles. The gentle but full shoulder movement is great at reducing stiffness in the neck and as Nordic Walking improves posture, it also helps to alleviate lower back pain.

Nordic walking using a pole with a core ledge which are now gaining popularity

One of the less mentioned benefit is that the propulsion provided by the poles helps people to walk faster and further than they would without the poles. Whilst it feels almost effortless because you feel lighter on your feet, you are actually working almost as hard as a jogger (without the strain on the legs) because you are using more major muscles.

Nordic Walking actually replicates the exercise provides by a cross training machine in the gym although it has the added benefits of providing variety of routes and terrain. The final benefit is that it is OUTDOORS and studies show that exercising outdoors is great for mental health. It is also a great way to exercise with others which is also proven to help people to stick to their exercise regimes – Instructors are able to provide a unique mix of motivation, fun and variety and the other participants in a group provide companionship. All perfect recipes for enjoyable but effective exercise.

Can you teach yourself how to do it?

There have been many you tube videos over the years and we often come across people who have tried to mirror the methods demonstrated but fail to actually engage the right muscles. Some videos are based on the long movement designed to perfect cross country ski technique whilst others are based more around the technique than how to get the many benefits associated with it. Our advice is is to learn from a professional Instructor who is able to assess your gait, fitness level and range of movement in order to help you master the technique at the right level for you. This will ensure you get the full benefits and are able to improve as your fitness increases ( which it will do very quickly ) It is easy to make common mistakes like not gaining propulsion from the poles , not actually harnessing the power of the upper body and over striding – all of which will stop you getting maximum results longer term and could cause injury.

What poles do you need for Nordic Walking?

a trekking pole

A typical trekking pole -which is NOT suitable for Nordic Walking

Yes you need poles with either a Nordic walking strap or core ledge (see both larger pictures above) which allow you to push into it in order to gain forward propulsion. Trekking straps like those shown here will NOT enable you to master the technique and gain the benefits because the strap is not designed to articulate correctly.

Find out more about Nordic walking poles, getting the size right and how to get the right ones for you HERE

Do Nordic Walking poles need to be the right size?

Absolutely! As the action of Nordic walking is basically 4 x 4 walking where your using your whole body to propel yourself forward, it is almost like having extended arms. To that end, those arms need to be the correct length to help you move smoothly without compromising on your stride. Poles which are not the right length can cause discomfort, negate the benefits of Nordic Walking and also potentially cause injury. Find out more HERE

Do you need to live in the countryside in order to Nordic Walk ?

No, you can Nordic walk anywhere and on any terrain, urban or rural. The poles all come with removable rubber ‘paws’ for use on hard surfaces such as pavements and park trails. Walking poles are often associated with mountains but that would typically be trekking poles used for stability and take the weight off the knees. You can use Nordic Walking for hiking in the mountains but you can’t use trekking poles for Nordic Walking. There a specific ways to adapt Nordic Walking technique for walking uphill and downhill.

Is Nordic walking for older people only? 

Nordic walking is suitable for all ages and abilities. It is a brilliant way to gain stability  and rehabilitate lower body joints which makes it suitable for the older adult but it is also a FULL BODY workout that works all of the major muscles. It provides a similar workout to a cross training machine in the gym but with the added benefits of being outdoors. There are poles to suit all ages including some great ones for children.

Can you Nordic walk in the snow?

Yes you can, as long as the snow is soft and not icy underfoot. The poles help provide extra stability and the action becomes more like snowshoeing. It is important to have the correct footwear though, ideally warm, waterproof and flexible shoes with good grip.

How would I learn to Nordic Walk?

The best way to learn to Nordic walk is to find a local Instructor who is qualified to teach you the technique at a level that is RIGHT for YOU. It is important that they understand the principles of fitness and movement and also exercise intensity as it’s easy to either over do things or not move correctly. A good Instructor will want to find out what results you want from Nordic walking and will be able to help you train for a charity hike, get whole body fit or lose weight. Those listed on the Nordic walking UK website are all fully qualified and are often able to add other elements such as strength exercises and other wellbeing tips.

They are also COVID secure and adhere to strict protocols re the cleanliness of poles and social distancing see HERE

You can find your local Instructor HERE

What shoes do I need for Nordic Walking?

You need shoes that are comfortable and flexible enough to roll through from the heel to the toe as with Nordic Walking you strike with the heel and push off from the toes. A solid heavy boot is not ideal. We find that trail walking shoes by makes such as Merrell and North Face are best and you can get them in all good outdoor stores such as Cotswold Outdoor

One make favoured by many Nordic walkers is the Discover walking shoe by GRUB’s pictured below. Ideally shoes would be waterproof as that means you can walk in any weather and on all terrains although you can buy waterproof socks to go into your current walking shoes. Most major outdoor retailer offer discounts to Members of Nordic walking UK too so its worth getting your passport to prove you have been taught how to Nordic Walk.

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